Jovial hijinks abound
Musical masterpiece ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ closes Maui OnStage’s season
While a member of the Friars Club of California, I had the great honor of chatting with several silver screen legends who regaled me with tales of Hollywood’s golden era. One of those greats was the late Cyd Charisse, who imparted the story of how the classic movie “Singin’ in the Rain” came to be.
Charisse played the long-legged vampish siren in the green dress in the 1951 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical. Her husband, the late singer Tony Martin, said he could always tell when “Cyd” was working with Gene Kelly: “She would be black and blue.”
Charisse frequently called Kelly “a perfectionist,” and said that he never wanted to hear “no” or “I can’t” as an answer. She paraphrased his choreography mission statement as, “That’s the way it’s going to be, and that’s the way it is.”
Charisse’s account was not limited to herself. Debbie Reynolds’ feet were bleeding after the “Good Morning” dance sequence, and Donald O’Connor called his body “a mass of bruises” the day after “Make ‘Em Laugh.” But Charisse told me that Kelly was even harder on himself. Kelly had the flu and a high fever when the famous title number was shot.
Next weekend, Maui OnStage will present the live version of that story, and they intend to make it “rain” on the Historic Iao Theater stage — Maui’s eminent silver screen palace.
Lia De Souza (Kathy Selden), who starred as Velma Kelly in MOS’s 2011 production of “Chicago,” remarked on the choreographic differences between the two dance-heavy productions and why she chose to pursue the role made famous by Reynolds.
“This show is much harder for me than ‘Chicago.’ There are so many numbers, involving so many people, that it’s been a real challenge to learn and retain choreography. I’d also have to say that tap is definitely not my forte, and that has been a real eye-opener. Kudos to anyone who tap dances,” she commented.
“I grew up watching movie musicals, and I really wanted to be a part of that dreamy, fairy-tale-like feeling that you get from watching these shows. It’s also really refreshing that a lead character gets to dance so much,” she added.
After Kelly was cast as the male lead in “Rain,” he was also named co-director by director Stanley Donen. In an effort to make the movie more authentic, Donen, Kelly and screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green interviewed dozens of silent film stars since the premise of the story follows the shift from silent movies to talkies. Through those interviews, a plot was constructed and the familiar “Rain” characters ended up based on real Hollywood stars, most notably the roles of Selden and Lina Lamont (Laura Cole in the MOS version).
According to Charisse, Selden was based on Ruby Keeler, a tap dance phenom, singer and former chorus girl. Legend has it she mocked and comically impersonated Al Jolson at a party. Because she was the first to cut the huge 1920’s superstar down to size, he allegedly was love-struck and the two eventually married.
Lamont was based on Marion Davies, another former chorus girl and the lifelong mistress of media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst, who was fictionalized in Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” intended to make Davies a star and founded Cosmopolitan Pictures in order to do so. Cosmopolitan changed its name to Monumental Pictures during “Singin’ in the Rain” and was eventually sold to MGM.
In her autobiography, “The Times We Had,” Davies described herself as “a dumb girl from Brooklyn.” In addition to her Brooklyn accent, Davies also had a horrible stutter, and MGM feared her film career was over when talking pictures emerged.
Through the aid of a diction coach, she later discovered that both her stutter and accent could be masked when she memorized her lines.
Don Lockwood (Chris Kepler) is a composite of many 1920’s heartthrobs, namely Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Rudolph Valentino, and the over-the-top melodramatic film-within-a-film, “The Dueling Cavalier,” which was based on Valentino’s 1924 film, “Monsieur Beaucaire.”
Additional character composites included Cosmo Brown (John Galvin), based on Buster Keaton; Zelda Zanders (Julia Schwentor), based on Clara Bow; gossip columnist Dora Bailey (Marsi Smith), based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons; and studio head R.F. Simpson (Dale Button), based on Louis B. Mayer and Hearst.
I asked choreographer Erin Kowalick to comment on the challenges of taking on such a dance-heavy show.
“I have been choreographing since I was about 14, and I think my brain is just wired for creating movement” she said. “I have to admit, when I found out we were doing this show, I was nervous that we would not have enough tappers, and thankfully I was wrong.
“We have a cast of amazing dancers, which made the teaching aspect of this show much easier for me. There are about 25 people tapping in the finale, which is just amazing to watch. Chris Kepler and John Galvin both started working on their tap dancing long before auditions (began) and it is paying off. Their roles in particular are extremely challenging because of the amount of dance that is involved. I am so impressed by their commitment and dedication, and they have been a joy to work with,” Kowalick concluded.
“Singin’ In The Rain” is also the final Maui OnStage production to be helmed by Alexis and Steven Dascoulias, after a 55-show run that began in the summer of 2007.
“My first onstage performance at Maui OnStage was as the King in “The King and I.” Ten years later, much has changed,” said Steven. “Many improvements have been made to the Historic Iao Theater, and our connection to the Maui theater community has grown tremendously.
“As for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ being my last show as production manager, well, it’s certainly keeping me jumping. Overseeing all the aspects of production, working with designers, directors and choreographers means there’s never a dull moment,” added Steven.
“I find it befitting, and perhaps slightly ironic, that our first show on Maui was an iconic, well-loved movie musical, ‘The King and I,’ and now as we get ready to make our exit-stage-left, we are producing and directing another well-loved iconic movie musical,” remarked Alexis.
” ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ has been my favorite movie musical since I was about 12 years old. It has everything — a great love story, fantastic dancing, gorgeous costumes, comedic characters and, of course, the boy gets the girl or the girl gets the boy,” she said.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with the many people who helped us bring shows to life on the Iao stage. As we begin a new chapter of our lives, I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Maui community and especially the Maui theater community. A hui ho,” concluded Steven.
ProArts Playhouse concludes the romantic-comedy “Same Time, Next Year” by Bernard Slade, directed by Lee Garrow.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse located at Azeka Place Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.
Adaptations Dance Theater presents “Bring it Home 2018.” This third annual dance concert will feature original works by guest choreographers Nathaniel Hunt, Ali McKeon and ADT’s co-artistic director Hallie Hunt. Returning guest performer Katie Istvan joins Maui dancers Amelia Couture, Cady Cox, Jen Cox, Nicole Humphrey, Ashley Krost, Emily McKeon, Nicole Yezzi and ADT apprentice Jessica Bartlett.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. An opening night gala will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday and tickets include beverages, pupu and live music. The Friday night gala and performance is a 21-and-older event. All ages are welcome to the Saturday performance. Attendees may bring their own beer and wine and will also have the opportunity to mingle with the artists at the after party. Tickets to the opening night gala are $55. Saturday tickets are $29 for adults and $15 for students. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.adaptationsdancetheater.com.